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Heroes Day: Guns that silenced history's villains

28 Jul 2023 at 06:42hrs | Views
Towards the end of the First Chimurenga in 1896, Cecil John Rhodes called for an indaba with Matabele chiefs, and among them was a young traditional leader, who asked a valid and pertinent question.

As witnessed by Vere Stent, a journalist cited in Julie Frederikse's "None But Ourselves", the young chief asked, "Where are we to live when it is over? The white man claims all the land."

History records that Rhodes didn't flinch when he responded: "We will give you settlements. We will set apart locations for you; we will give you land."

Nonetheless, unperturbed by the pleading glare from his elders and the noticeable, yet presumed hidden sneer on the imperialist's face, the young chief retorted: "You will give us land in our own country! That's good of you . . . Where will you give us land?"

Astoundingly, Rhodes offered them the Matopos (Matobo), drawing raucous laughter from the chiefs. However, the armed young chief persisted, and the colonial godfather felt he had to be stopped. So, he cajoled him to put his rifle down if dialogue was to continue.

Still sulking and irked, the young revolutionary, much to the delirium of his kinsmen, pugnaciously, responded: "You will have to talk to me with my rifle in my hand. I find if I talk with the rifle in my hand the white man pays more attention to what I say. Once I put my rifle down, I am nothing. I am just a dog to be kicked." (Stent in Frederikse, 1990).

Yes, the only language that the racist Rhodes, and his kin and kith, mercenaries among them, understood was the click of the trigger and the sound of gunfire. As embodied in the young man's bravery in talking back to the empire's emissary and paragon of colonialism, Rhodes, our forefathers left a revolutionary legacy that inspired the liberation struggle, which culminated in our Independence in 1980.

Their bones, indeed, rose, as Mbuya Nehanda prophesied. The land, our land, has always been close to our hearts. It is the source of our African pride.

As Heroes Day approaches, it is time to reflect on the inspiration behind the collective struggle that claimed thousands of our people; gallant sons and daughters, whose bones lie scattered, or are interred in shallow graves across the Motherland and in neighbouring countries.

Their dismembered bodies are strewn in disused mines, caves, depths of rivers, or were mauled by marauding animals of prey. Indeed, we should find time to celebrate the gallantry of those who lie at the national monument, and all the provincial heroes' shrines across the country; and are embodied in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National Heroes Acre.

Rhodes and Founders: Commemorating villains

Colonialists say they discovered, nay founded a country marked by hoisting of the Union Jack on Harare Hill on September 12, 1890, and "in the name of Queen Victoria, took possession of Mashonaland, and all other unpossessed land in South-Central Africa that it should be found desirable to add to the Empire" (Martin and Johnson, 1981).

"Unpossessed land?" Really?

Rhodes and his so-called Pioneer Column claim to have "found" an unpossessed, and richly endowed land populated by "half-devil" and "half-children", as Rudyard Kipling writes in "The White Man's Burden".

At this point, one may also make reference to Antony Thomas' "Rhodes: The Race for Africa" (1997), in which the writer reveals the agnostic and racial inclinations of Cecil John Rhodes, who believed that the colonisation of Africa was good for Africans, since the English were a "pure" and "civilised" race.

Rhodes was considered a hero, in the colonial sense of the word, and colonial governments celebrated his legacy on Rhodes and Founders Day introduced in 1903, following the colonialist's death in 1902.

The first settlers were also celebrated as heroic founders of the oppressive colonial country named Rhodesia.

Rhodes and Founders was originally celebrated on July 5 and 6 to coincide with Rhodes' birthday (July 5), and the date the Pioneer Column crossed the Shashe River into the Promised Land in 1890.

In 1910, Colonel Raleigh Grey, a member of the Legislative Council and OC of Southern Rhodesia Volunteers, pointed out that Rhodes and Founders should be celebrated on the first Monday and Tuesday in July. His reason, however, was to allow for four clear days for the annual camp and military training for his volunteers without courting the ire of employers.

However, after careful consideration of one of the members' concern that the wording could cause confusion should July 1 fall on a Tuesday as was the case in 1975, the Legislative Council moved the celebrations to the second Monday and second Tuesday in July.

Therefore, from 1903 up to 1980, the real owners of the land were forced to observe the debauchery of villains on their ancestral heritage; all in the name of Christian "civilisation".

Heroes Acre: Celebrating gallantry

Speaking at a rally at Dewa, Zvishavane on May 15, 1982 the Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Emmerson Mnangagwa (now the President of Zimbabwe) said: "If we forget the struggle and the people who died so that the country can be truly ours, then we shall drift aimlessly.

"We who are alive link with those who have died and those who have yet to be born; and we must look after the heritage of our country, and teach our children what that heritage is and what it means."

He added: "Many of us have been through that period of our history when the struggle was unfolding. We are living in the aftermath of that struggle, and, therefore, a most important responsibility rests upon our shoulders" (The Sunday Mail 16 May, 1982).

He outlined that national shrines like Dewa—permanent symbols of remembrance of those gallant sons and daughters of the soil, who lost lives in the line of duty, would be built at various places across the country to be rallying points for the people on Independence Day and Heroes Day.

As he was then, President Mnangagwa has remained true to the liberation ethos that celebrates valour and selflessness.

With settler rule out of the way, the Patriotic Front Government lead by Prime Minister Robert Mugabe (late national hero and former President ), obliterated from the calendar all days that celebrated colonial bastions of oppression, like Rhodes and Founders, which was replaced by Ancestors Day, which is no longer celebrated.

The idea of a national hero accolade was mooted and passed just after Independence in 1980, leading to the construction of the National Heroes Acre, a revered shrine and pride of the Zimbabwean people, at Warren Hills near Warren Park in Harare.

The National Heroes Acre is symbolic of gallantry and self-sacrifice. Thus, conferment of hero status is the greatest honour that can be bestowed on brave sons and daughters of Zimbabwe, whose contributions to nationhood remain etched in our collective memory.

Heroes Day was initially celebrated on August 11 and 12, though the dates had no special significance. There was a heated debate around the dates, with white Members of Parliament arguing that the celebrations should fall on Monday and Tuesday, instead of midweek, as it would affect business.

 Contributing to debate in Parliament on July 28, 1980, Senator Joseph Culverwell, apparently irked by their attitude, reminded white MPs of the fact that for decades, blacks, who were in the majority, were forced to observe holidays that had no meaning to them.

 Castigating white legislators "derogatory" references to workers and heroes, Home Affairs Deputy Minister Senator Tarisai Ziyambi, pointed out that the celebrations should be given significance independent of capitalistic considerations of production, and the desire for a "long weekend".

This view was also shared by Home Affairs Minister Dr Joshua Nkomo (late Vice President).

 Through a Bill passed into law in August 2001, Heroes Day was moved to the second Monday, and Defence Forces Day (celebrated on August 12 since 1990), to the second Tuesday of August.

 The first funeral at the National Heroes Acre was on August 12, 1980, with 40 000 people in attendance when the late ZANLA Commander, General Josiah Tongogara, and ZAPU Vice President Jason Ziyaphapha Moyo were finally laid to rest, having been initially interred in Mozambique and Zambia, respectively.

 Father Alexio Muchabayiwa of the Roman Catholic Church presided.

 Modelled after two AK-47s lying back to back with the graves meant to resemble their magazines, the National Heroes Acre was constructed by a North Korean firm, Mansudae Overseas Projects, starting from September 1981.  The 57-acre (230 000m2) site lies on a ridge. It took the effort of 10 Zimbabwean and seven North Korean architects and artists as well as 250 locals to layout and construct it.

The main structures are made of black granite quarried from Mutoko.

 Other features of the national monument are The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, The Eternal Flame, which was lit at Independence celebrations in 1980, and taken to Harare Hill to mark the end of colonialism, Wall Murals on either side of the shrine, and the Museum.

Source - The Herald
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